Before I get into my discussion of Fearless, please know that it ends with a plea for your help. If you've ever felt left out of the process that brought us Fearless or the process through which we define Oberlin, now is the moment to step up and be part of the solution.
What we need here is credibility, and credibility comes foremost from personal narratives: the stories that collectively define a place. From my limited perspective (and a lunch with Mark Edwards), I believe that Fearless was meant to be primarily a vehicle, not necessarily a tagline used without context.
The challenge with Fearless is this: when it is left naked on a hat or a t-shirt, people often misinterpret it to mean "without fear." And that makes us angry, because we all know that Oberlin Fearless is quite a different concept. Oberlin Fearless means embracing that which generates fear and refusing to let it derail our momentum towards a better world. Oberlin Fearless means standing firm in the face of injustice, poverty, racism, homophobia - the things that deny people their right to live and dream. I need not tell you this.
Admittedly, I'm a child of the "Think One Person Can Change The World" generation. That poster hung on my wall for six years between high school and college. When I first saw Fearless, yes, I wondered where my Oberlin was. But in retrospect, that was a lazy response. Oberlin is Oberlin. Nothing's going to change its bones or its pulse - no marketing, no tagline, nothing. I just had to look in a different place, and when I did, I discovered that the stories were the same.
To be clear - Fearless isn't going away anytime soon. Too much time and money have been spent. Those cards were dealt a long time ago, and as I noted above, getting hung up in the history won't do any of us any good. We must instead look for opportunity.
And so we have two options. We can continue to complain about Fearless, as we've done for two years. We can let those complaints fill up google searches for high school kids and let that be their impression of us. Or we can unite as a community and make damn sure the world knows exactly what Fearless means in the context of Oberlin.
At a recent senior staff retreat, I presented an idea to engage the community in deconstructing Fearless, a plan to which we now refer as "The Fearless Prism." The idea is to take a step back from the word itself, break it down into more accessible components, and use those to properly tell the Oberlin story and translate Oberlin's ethos to the world.
This is where you come in. I need at least 1000 of you (that's less than 3% of our current students, faculty, alumni, and staff) to share a personal story that will help the world understand how Oberlin teaches and empowers its people to go out and create change. (Any reference to the word Fearless is completely optional.)
I want to publish so many stories that Oberlin's impact on the world becomes both tangible and intangible in its immensity. I want people to understand that yes, one person can change the world, but one community can influence the evolution of that world, one brave act at a time.
We will then assemble these stories - and broadcast them via the front-and-center section of our new Oberlin.edu homepage - until there are no more stories to share.
The guidelines are simple: personal narratives, 300 words (give or take), truth and transparency. No agendas, please - this isn't a place to bash the Fearless campaign, but a place to define it on your own terms. If a high school junior asked you to put all the marketing aside and just get to the point, how would you define an Oberlin education to him/her through the prism of a pivotal experience in your life, either at - or because of - Oberlin?
Friends, our office can't do this on our own. If you want the world to understand your Oberlin, please contribute to the project. You can send your submissions directly to me - ben dot jones at oberlin dot edu.
Many thanks in advance for your consideration,
P.S. Our goal is to edit your work as little as possible. If we feel that a piece needs editing, we'll tell you why and then ask you to do it, so that all of the words will remain yours.
P.P.S. Eventually we'll welcome non-written submissions, such as video, photography, or audio. For the site launch in mid-October, however, we're only able to accept written narratives.